By Israel Larson, Staff Writer

Local artist Matte Refic brings to light issues surrounding mental health through raw and emotional pieces of artwork displayed in his art show, The Shadows, currently at the PPCC Downtown Studio Campus Art Gallery until Dec. 2.

Through his art, Refic aims to break free from mental health stigmas, while also helping people find an outlet for their darkest emotions.

“I kind of do art therapy. I have an artist residence in a prison and I work with a lot of inmates. I have a book called, “Meet your Monsters,” that gets distributed among the inmates inside the prison,” Refic said.

Working first hand with people battling mental demons, Refic is able to redirect the energy into a more positive light.

“What I do is I teach people to turn their feelings and emotions into art. Instead of bottling up that negativity, I teach them how to turn it into a form of self-expression. Your emotions are an infinite wellspring of inspiration and we have feelings all the time whether they’re good or bad,” said Refic.

Refic’s show offers a real, organic experience of the beauty that can be created when channeling negative energies onto a canvas. It highlights what mental health looks like while giving a place for people to release these emotions in a positive way.

“Creative processes like art give you a place to put your emotions instead of acting out. If you’re going through a depression and you make a painting then it ends up being something constructive instead of destructive,” Refic said.

Refic furthers the awareness of mental health through his YouTube channel and hopes to reach a larger audience by doing so. Here the artist takes his audience through all the emotions he expresses through his paint brush, hoping to guide others in doing the same.

The Shadows is a unique experience that sort of breaks away from traditional art. It breaks down the walls of comfort and dives straight into the abyss of the unknown, provoking a wide range of feelings.

Gallery director Rowena Sabetta explained, “What attracted me about Matte Refic specifically is that he works in the Colorado Prison system with the Prison Arts Coalition so he works with people who don’t necessarily get opportunities to express themselves in an artistic way, and I thought that would be very special for the students to experience someone who operates more from an emotional base.”

Sabetta wants to introduce a less polished style of art into the community and bring new energy to the table. The Shadows is the first example of this new style.

Sabetta said, “We have to really evaluate what is relevant to our students and I think mental health and the taboos around them is one of those things. How many of our own students face these darker emotions daily? So, the idea moving forward is when we have these concept shows come in, they’re gonna be utilitarian. They’re gonna be artists that are willing to work with the students, are accessible to the students and relevant to what’s important to our students.”

Finding ways to bring together the community and raise awareness about the taboos around mental health was major factor contributing to Refic’s work. The whole idea is to be comfortable with everything wrong within ourselves and create beauty from that. Refic does a wonderful job at bringing this to life in the work presented in his gallery.

“I think mental illness is one of those things we tend to sweep under the rug and the fact he (Matte Refic) is highlighting this reality is inspiring. His piece entitled, ‘The Love and The Hate’ was one that stood out to me in particular because of it’s ying and yang like qualities. It was just relatable in a sense and super cool seeing those feelings brought out onto paper,” said PPCC student Sophia Castle.

“This is an exhibit that is not meant to be pretty so much as provoking. It is aesthetically astonishing and has a lot of shock value behind it. There’s so much dark and black color and a lot of eyes sort of looking at you and it really contrasts perfectly with the combat papers, which is all about war and trauma and what it’s like to go through an experience and come out the other side altered forever. The show is designed to make you think and hopefully feel emotions and just explore your dark side,” said PPCC student Suzanne Seyfi.

The Shadows reinvents the ways in which mental health is portrayed and brings forth a compelling story of the darkness we all inevitably face. Bringing raw, unfiltered emotions into the gallery and providing a voice for the broken is what makes The Shadows so powerful. This gallery is a great opportunity for experiencing mental health in a different light and gaining insight on ways to turn the ugly into something beautiful.

The PPCC Downtown Studio Campus Gallery is open weekdays from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.